Jack Houlder, James Brooke, Lucas Sadler, Dom Horn (vc), Adam Skyner, Matt Bailey, Will Tobin, Herbie Gale, Jamie Halpin, Will Appleton, Luke Jagger, Sam Brewer, Ben Barnett (c), Pat Dore, Matt Carr, Louis Jones, Ben Smith, Alex Potts
Prelude: It’s pleasing to report that 2022 kicked off with two fixtures, the 1st XV travelling north to Gloucester to play Coney Hill RFC in a League Match, whilst the OEs Thundercats were away to play Southmead 2nd XV. Both games would no doubt be affected by the very wet & windy conditions, either underfoot or through handling. The 1st XV were reminded that they could expect something very different in this return fixture compared to the comparatively easy win of 56-0 earlier in the season. Coney Hill had at the time told us that they had been affected by a number of players being unavailable due to a wedding!!
A late change in the front Row due to illness to Prop Lucas Sadler gave Louis Jones a starting position at Tight Head Prop for his 1st XV Debut. Well done to Louis (age 18 from QEH) and certainly one to watch out for in the future. This meant that Joe Brock was drafted in to take his deserved place on the bench. The Coney Hill pitch provided a nice wide flat pitch providing the opportunity for some fast running rugby. That said, if you saw the end of the Harlequins vs Exeter game Saturday or indeed can remember back to 2003 when Jonny Wilkinson dramatically kicked to win England the World Cup, this match would provide a similar squeaky bum finish!
Old Es started well showing good promise with an early attack which resulted in a Penalty. Luke Jagger stepped up and coolly slotted the ball between the posts (0-3).
Within minutes Coney Hill had been awarded a similar kickable penalty (3-3).
Some good end to end tennis kicking then took place but was ended with a good charge down by Matt Carr. From the following play Es gained ground again and were awarded a further penalty where ‘Cool-Hand’ Luke again gave Es the lead (3-6).
Herbie Gale playing at No.8 looked so comfortable despite a backwardly moving scrum and on numerous occasions fished the ball out to give Es the advantage. A Coney Hill lineout in the Es’ 22 was disrupted when the ball was ripped by Adam Skyner who then bulldozed his way up to halfway. Probably the last of the exciting attacking play then nearly resulted in an Es’ try out wide when Matt Bailey touched down ahead of his opposite man but the referee disallowed it saying that he was unsighted!!!! (Should have gone to Specsavers!).
Further promising open play from Es was then disrupted either by the opposition or by Es’ poor handling or poor decision making. Coney Hill should have drawn level but missed their opportunity to do so through an easy penalty kick! Coney Hill started to dominate both possession and territory and a different game to that experienced earlier in the season at Fortress Hallen was certainly on the cards. This was backed up when Coney Hill’s Forwards drove over for a try, not converted (8-6).
Es managed to get themselves into the Coney Hill 22 but lost our own scrum and as Coney Hill cleared their lines through a low level kick up popped ‘Cool-Hand’ Luke who majestically scooped the ball up 30 metres out and flew through the opposition defence to score a great unconverted try (8-11).
A further great run from Adam Skyner, in a flawless performance was probably the only bright spot then before the half time whistle was blown (8-11).
Despite a relatively good start to the 2nd half any attacking opportunities were soon spurned through handling errors. The one bright spot came from a good Sam Brewer run which resulted in a penalty. Up stepped ‘Cool-Hand’ Luke to extend the lead to (8-14).
An Es’ 3/4s reshuffle saw replacements Alex Potts on in the Backs and Ben Smith on in the Back Row. A very harsh Yellow Card was then shown to debutant Louis Jones so a further reshuffle was necessary as Matt Bailey stepped into the Hooker position and Joe Brock was introduced onto the Right Wing. For the final quarter of the game (if not longer) Es had to rely upon the ‘Blue Wall’ defence following penalty after penalty, scrum after scrum, which fortunately had improved thus avoiding any push-over scrums.
The good Old Es’ spectator contingent were fearing the worst and starting to make excuses for what looked like an inevitable defeat. However Es seemed to have survived the onslaught and were able to clear their lines but a dropped ball from the returned kick put Es under pressure once again. A lineout won by Coney Hill 10m out then took on the look of Bristol Bears as pretty much all of their backs joined in the drive over the try line. The referee’s eyesight had obviously improved as he awarded the try despite no-one else being able to see a grounding and Adam Skyner clearly lying under the ball as everyone got to their feet.
Es couldn’t complain though as a similar looking try had previously been disallowed. The Coney Hill No.10 slotted the ball between the posts and Es looked to be heading for a narrow defeat (15-14).
With just seconds to play as the restart was taken, supporter, Colin Williams was heard to say “Our best chance now is to earn a penalty”. As if by magic that’s exactly what was awarded by the referee for back chat from a Coney Hill player!
30 metres out this would be a pressure kick but ‘Cool-Hand’ Luke Jagger stepped up and the ball whistled smack bang through the centre of the posts accompanied by a great ROAR to the relief of all Es’ players and spectators alike - Rich Loader reporting on WhatsApp stated “.. and the crowd is on the pitch!".
Grabbing a victory from the jaws of defeat, as Heiny (Coach) reminded everyone - "we have lost a few games by the odd point so it's nice, for once, that this is in our favour."
A really tough, exhausting and gritty performance but Es were certainly not at their best and will need to improve if they are to achieve a further win at home next Saturday against Dings II.
Spectators’ Man of the Match: ‘Cool-Hand’ Luke Jagger
Coach's MoM: Luke Jagger and Herbie Gale with a special mention for the contribution of Adam Skyner!
For photos of the match go to the Gallery at the bottom of the page
Paul “Blakey” Barrington
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